Beeff Makes Hip-Hop That's Authentically Artificial
[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
The paradox at the heart of hip-hop is that no genre celebrates authenticity more but rewards artifice so richly. Former corrections officer turned crustacean-slurping, would-be mob boss Rick Ross is only the latest in a line that stretches back to the "borrowed" rhymes on The Sugarhill Gang's "Rappers Delight."
But most fake rappers try to prove that they're real. Rap duo BEeFF has no room for pretending. Their mission statement came plastered as the title of their 2012 mixtape: Leaders of the Fake World. Another was called All Style, No Substance.
"A friend of ours was really into exposing and poking holes in the stories of all these rappers who claimed they were real," says BEeFF's Evan Washington at a coffee shop in South Central. His "who cares" mentality is embodied in the juxtaposition of his Menace II Society hat with a Japanese kimono - style shirt. "Eventually, we started poking holes in our own story and ran with it."
"Fake allows us to be anything we want to be," adds his partner, Bertran Cooper, better known as B.C. He's wearing a Barack Obama "Weeded It" parody shirt, designer eyeglasses and clavicle-length dreads.
Raised in Baldwin Hills, they met in the 11th grade through mutual friends, L.A. rap trio The Fly Guys. Washington attended Westchester and later Cal State Northridge. Cooper graduated from Harvard Westlake and USC. They didn't start collaborating until right after college, circa 2009.
"We were already rolling together along with Fly Guys and [rapper] Mann. [Cooper] was producing for them and I was managing and doing all the behind-the-scenes shit," Washington says. "This nigga had beats and bars, and I had a lot of personality and ... "
"It got to where I was making a lot of beats and no one was rapping on them and I figured we should," Cooper says, finishing the thought.
While their raps were initially raw, they stormed out of the gate with hilariously absurd videos and a fully developed fake world cosmology. A short list of their fake icons includes David Letterman, Moammar Gadhafi, Jeff Goldblum, Elton John and preposterously dressed TV sports announcer Craig Sager. Other crucial inspirations include moon boots, Netflix documentaries, cartoons, superhero comics, Mickey Mouse, marijuana and UFOs.
The closest analogues to their music are the irony-drenched, early-'00s bizarro raps of Lil B and Die Antwoord. You probably can even trace the blurred lines back to Frank Zappa.
But BEeFF are a triumphantly unique strain of weird.
Their latest release is last month's #BEeFF . Its cover features a pencil sketch of a revamped Mount Rushmore featuring Larry David, Pikachu and both members of BEeFF. Sometimes they claim they're the black Ben Bernankes. Or they boast to a girl that they'll be the Screech to her Lisa Turtle.
There are forays into subgenres from modern funk to minimal techno to bass-crushing twerk anthems. Guest spots come from the other members of PeaceLife, their collective with Mann and Tone Oliver, which "strives for unity thru individuality."
Not every experiment works, but when it does, it demonstrates why BEeFF is the funniest rap group in L.A.
"It took us nearly two years to make, and we definitely improved on everything from beats to bars to the quality of the mixing and engineering," Washington says to explain their legitimate improvement as musicians, a rare real moment.
"We've finally figured out how to mix all these influences together and spit them back out in a totally different way," Cooper says, pausing. "Even if it's fake, what does that mean anyway? The music is still out."
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